Unlock the potential of food to fuel

March is Nutrition Month and one of the topics is unlocking the potential of food to fuel. Canadians can stay energized by planning nutrition snacks into their day. Almost half of all Canadians say that eating a balanced diet is challenging because they are so busy. This means they often skip meals and eat a lot of snacks to stay fuelled in a busy day. As a dietitian working with young athletes I know that busy schedules is a reality for many of them with their training sessions, school, after school practices and competitions throughout the week. Snacking can be part of a healthy diet and is a great way to get all the nutrients the body needs each day. Snacks are foods or drinks that are consumed between meals. When athletes are on the run during a busy day, snacks are mini-meals that offer some nutritional value and an energy boost to support their activity.

The key to healthy snacking is to choose nutritious foods and match portion sizes to hunger and energy needs. Now it is important to distinguish snacks from treats. Treats such as cookies, chocolate and chips are not as nourishing as snacks. A healthy snack should provide some carbohydrates, protein and fiber to help athletes get all the nutrients their body needs each day. Helpful snacking tips for athletes include:

Plan ahead. Athletes can take some time every week to prepare and plan snacks that can be packed for on the go. Keep a variety of healthy ready to eat snacks on hand such as cut up vegetables, nuts and cubed cheese. Pre-portion trail mix, yogurt and cut up fruit so they are ready to grab and go. Being prepared with healthy snacks helps athletes avoid less healthy treats.

Fuel up with carbohydrate rich foods. The body needs carbohydrates to fuel itself during activity. With athletes busy schedules it is important they choose carbohydrate rich foods often. Foods that contain carbohydrates include vegetables and fruit, whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain crackers, milk and yogurt and legumes such as split peas, beans and lentils.

Include some protein. Protein is an essential nutrient that helps to build and repair body tissue including muscles. Athletes can easily eat enough protein in their diet by choosing protein rich foods as part of their healthy snacking habits. Protein rich foods include milk, yogurt and cheese, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, beans, lentils and tofu.

Snack on vegetables! About half of all Canadians don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit. Brightly colored vegetables and fruit are full of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants which are important in helping protect the body’s tissues against the stresses of hard exercise. Snacking on vegetables and fruit between meals is a great way to add extra servings to an athlete’s diet.

Keep a list of healthy snack ideas on the fridge. Sometimes it is hard to think about what to pack for snacks. Having a list of snack ideas to choose from can help with grocery shopping, planning and preparing nutritious snacks to go. Here are some great ideas!

  • Carrots and peppers with hummus
  • Almond butter on banana slices
  • Greek yogurt topped with berries
  • Whole grain toast with peanut butter
  • Cheddar cheese and apple slices
  • Small handful of trail mix made with nuts, seeds and raisins
  • Whole grain cereal with milk
  • Sliced vegetables with yogurt dip
  • Tuna on crackers
  • Whole grain toast with avocado and sesame seeds or hemp hearts.

Stay energized by planning nutritious snacks into your day!

Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre and can be reached at asdc@mhc.ab.ca

Don’t waste even one day!

I have been very reflective in the last couple of weeks. If I look back at the last 15-20 years, it seems as though the time has gone by extremely quickly. It is very hard to think that 2002 (the year I graduated high school), was now 16 years ago. It does not seem like it was 16 years ago that I graced the doors of Medicine Hat High School as a student.

I am now in a new chapter of my life as I have two children. My daughter Lilah Jean is approaching 2 and a half years old, and my son Eli is 8 months old tomorrow. When I sit and think about the moment that my daughter was born, I cannot help but feel like it was yesterday. On the other hand, if I think back to each sleepless night and the long travel days when she was screaming in the car seat, it seems like those times lasted for an eternity.

The reality is that they years go by quickly, but the days and moments are not always as fast. If I look back at the moment that I graduated high school and went off to college, it seems as though the time from then till now has gone by quickly. Alternatively, when I think about each and every day  that I have strived and grinded to get to where I am now, it seems like the days have gone by slowly.

This principle directly applies to an individual’s athletic career. I played football for the University of Calgary Dinos from 2003 – 2005. It seems like yesterday that I was putting on my football pads and getting ready for a game or practice. Still to this day though, I talk about the grind that each day was while playing with the Dinos. We had meetings each day from 4:00 – 5:30 pm; following this, we had practice from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. In addition to the meetings and practices, we had to maintain a certain GPA in order to remain on the team. My days consisted of classes, studying, meeting, practice, eating, and sleeping. Each day felt like an eternity.

It is so important for an athlete to push hard each and every day that they are in their athletic prime. The moments when an athlete feels like they can’t push any more because the grind is too hard are the days that they need to realize that their opportunity will disappear quickly. It will not be long that those days will be 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

We have a fixed athletic time frame where we can push hard to reach our goals. Young emerging athletes do not look at life this way. They take days off and relax when they should be pushing. What’s the moral of the story here? Push while you can, because before you know it your athletic career will be over!

Don’t waste even one day!

Cory Coehoorn is the coordinator of the Alberta Sport Development Centre at Medicine Hat College. He would love to chat with you and answer any questions that you may have regarding their programs and services. He can be reached via email at ccoehoorn@mhc.ab.ca or via phone at 403-504-3547.

Nutrition for Cold Weather Sports

As a dietitian with Alberta Sport Development Center, I get to work with a variety of young athletes. A special small component of these athletes are the ones that train and compete in cold weather sports such as alpine and freestyle skiing or snowboarding. Many of our athletes also continue to train outside such as running and cycling even in the snow and cold. There are unique food and fluid challenges athletes face when they train and compete in the sub zero temperatures outside. These challenges include

  • An increase risk of hypothermia with the cold temperatures. Athletes may feel a reduced desire to eat and drink.
  • As an athlete sweats and then cools down after waiting for the next event or training run they can start shivering. Shivering uses up a lot of energy and can quickly tire an athlete, affecting their performance.
  • Access to food and fluids may not be easily available for cold weather athletes as they are often outside in the country or on a ski hill. They may also find it difficult to eat and drink, by having to undress or take off gloves. I also find that it can be hard to convince athletes to take a break to eat and drink because in Southern Alberta we don’t always have a lot of snow so athletes want to take advantage of all the time they can get on the hill!

So when it comes supporting winter sport athletes to drink and eat enough to support their activity we have to come up with some different strategies. It is really important for athletes to focus on drinking adequate fluids prior to their training and competition so that they start off well hydrated. Two to three hours before hitting the slope they should aim to have two to three cups of fluid. When they are at the ski hill they can carry a water bottle in a backpack which can be left at the top or the bottom of the hill so they can have a drink before or after a run. I have learned that while that seems like a very practical strategy, that in reality sometimes their water freezes when they leave it in their backpack. So other strategies that can help prevent their fluids from freezing include:

  • wrapping their water bottle up in extra clothing they carry in their backpack
  • keeping their bottle of the ground and snow
  • using an insulated container to keep water cool but not frozen
  • packing warm beverages or soups in insulated containers to help take away the chill of training outside as well as hydrate.

Cold weather can suppress an athlete’s appetite so they don’t feel like eating. Packing small carbohydrate based snacks that are easy to eat with gloves are key. Foods that can be stuffed into jacket pockets include dried fruit, trail mix and granola bars. Snacks that can be packed in a backpack include peanut butter and jam sandwiches, wraps with lean meat, crackers and cheese, chocolate milk (hot or cold) or a juice box. Yogurt tubes are also convenient because even if they freeze they still taste great and are easy to eat!

With a little planning athletes who train and compete in cold weather sports can ensure they are meeting their food and fluid needs to perform at their best.

Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre and can be reached at asdc@mhc.ab.ca

Success is a way of life

Happy New Year from the Alberta Sport Development Centre at Medicine Hat College.

A New Year brings about feelings of anticipation and hope. It is usually a time when people set goals for themselves and look to make changes for the positive. This applies to athletes as well. The New Year is a time when athletes formulate goals for the next calendar year.

One of the most common criticisms of New Year goals is that they only last for a month or so. For the most part, this is true. Fitness facilities see their highest membership sign-ups in the early part of January; although, statistics show that less than half of the individuals who make New Year fitness resolutions maintain their goal six months later.

Where am I going with this?

Making New Year resolutions is not the answer to fitness or athletic success. Success is a way of life. No athlete has success when they make a goal and renege on it a couple of months later. Athletic success can be equated to breathing. An athlete needs to want to succeed as much as they want to breathe. No one makes a goal to breathe and then quits six months later.

We see this way of thinking with a lot of our Athlete Enhancement Program athletes. We have early morning training sessions every Monday and Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. The athletes who want to be better show up on a consistent basis. They don’t start coming for a few weeks in January and then taper off as time goes on; they consistently show up to the training sessions throughout the course of the year.

We have a great group of hockey players in our program this year. There are eight athletes from the South East athletic Club (SEAC) AAA teams in our program this year. They show up consistently to our training sessions, and their success as individuals is shining through. When we did our fitness testing before Christmas, it was the SEAC athletes that tested the best. You can see it in their eyes that they want to get better.

Derek Jeter, the famous New York Yankees shortstop once said, “I wouldn’t call myself great. The thing that I prided myself on in my career was consistency.”

Don’t make New Year resolutions. Make a choice this New Year to create a lifestyle of consistency.

Cory Coehoorn is the coordinator of the Alberta Sport Development Centre at Medicine Hat College. He would love to chat with you and answer any questions that you may have regarding their programs and services. He can be reached via email at ccoehoorn@mhc.ab.ca or via phone at 403-504-3547.

Cooking Skills for the Busy Athlete

At Alberta Sport Development Center (ASDC), we help emerging athletes reach the next level of competition. Nutrition is a key element as part of an athletes training and competition plan. My role as the ASDC Dietitian is to support athletes to meet their nutrition goals. This includes educating our young athletes, parents, and coaches about sports nutrition and how nutrition can improve their athletic performance. But it also includes developing food skills such as menu planning, reading food labels, grocery shopping and learning how to cook. These practical skills are important for young athletes to support their training but also a life skill for as they get older.

Young athletes often struggle with good nutrition practices as they face many challenges with the type of schedules they maintain. Our athletes often have busy training schedules and will be up early before school to train or will train after school and into the evening. This can make it difficult to eat regular meals at home and leaves little time for meal preparation for in between school and events. Athletes often travel away from home for competitions and may have reduced access to good food choices on the road or at the venues where they compete. So part of our goal at ASDC is to work with athletes to provide practical strategies and develop food skills to help them build on good nutrition practices that they can take with them into their adult years.

The cooking sessions I do with the athletes in our athlete enhancement program is always a favorite. We focus on some basic meal planning and the athletes learn how to make some quick snacks and meals that they can eat at home or on the go. They always enjoy making snacks such as cereal trail mix, yogurt parfaits, and smoothies. They also learn that they can make their own quick meals such as pasta salads and skillets that can be packed up to eat on the go or to serve to their parents as a thank you for driving them around everywhere! Not everything turns out perfect but learning from their mistakes is part of skill development (like reading the recipe closely when it says one quarter of a teaspoon of chili peppers and not one quarter cup)! Cooking skills such as reading a recipe, washing dishes, cutting and sautéing vegetables, measuring liquids and dry ingredients and browning meats are just a few of the skills we focus on.

We will also tour a grocery store to practice other food skills such as how to read food labels, grocery shop and budget for meals. Through hands on discussion and some competitive activities (they are athletes after all) athletes build their confidence and knowledge about making informed healthy food choices. It is a lot of fun and they learn practical food skills that they will rely on as they get older as well. To learn more about our Athlete Enhancement Program with ASDC check out our website at www.mhc.ab.ca/Services/HealthandWellness/ASDC

Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre and can be reached at asdc@m hc.ab.ca

Science-Based Training

I live in a world of science; I am constantly surrounded by scientific literature and conversation. To be honest with you… I absolutely love it!

Not only am I the coordinator of the Alberta Sport Development Centre at Medicine Hat College, I am also a Science & Health faculty member at Medicine Hat College, and because I am completely crazy, I am also pursuing a PhD at the University of Victoria. So it would make sense that I would expect to see science based approaches when it comes to the areas of athlete development.

The Alberta Sport Development Centre at Medicine Hat College has some of the most qualified, scientifically inclined staff in the business. Everyone who is staffed by our centre has a scientific approach to their craft.

This is not the case in all fields of athletic development! Many “qualified” fitness professionals are not using a scientific approach when it comes to training athletes. I actually was at one point in time employed as a NCAA division I university assistant strength & conditioning coach, and you would not believe some of the practices that occur in athlete development at that level. The head strength and conditioning coach at this particular institution had no other credential other than that he played in the National Football League. I was told by this particular individual to not question how they ran their training sessions but to simply “be there” and yell as much as I could. When training the football team, we would all congregate in a room outside of the weight room and jump and yell at the top of our lungs. Once we were adequately “pumped up,” we would sprint into the weight room and orchestrate 1 hour of pure chaos. Trust me, there was no science or forethought into these training sessions. The reality is that we live in a athlete development world where the loudest and most adequate sales personnel are running the industry.

The consequences of this reality is that athletes are getting overtrained and injured. Even more unfortunate is that once these athletes get injured and are labelled “not tough enough,” they are tossed to the wayside and replaced with another individual who will have a likely chance of suffering the same fate.

At Alberta Sport Development Centre at Medicine Hat College we are doing our best to change the dynamics of the industry. We have two very qualified, scientifically based strength & conditioning coach’s who approach athletic development very methodically. As the coordinator, I am very confident that when I send our strength & conditioning coaches to any athlete or team that the athletes will stay healthy and get nothing but the best.

Cory Coehoorn is the coordinator of the Alberta Sport Development Centre at Medicine Hat College. He would love to chat with you and answer any questions that you may have regarding their programs and services. He can be reached via email at ccoehoorn@mhc.ab.ca or via phone at 403-504-3547.

Injury Proofing Young Athletes

One of the primary functions of the Strength and Conditioning coach is to build an armour on our trainees. By identifying, improving, and sometimes eliminating faulty movements that predispose athletes to injury we can have a lifelong impact on their athleticism and overall health.

Sport has inherent risks, we will never eliminate injury altogether just ask the guy who has broken his scaphoid, collarbone, 2 ribs, strained both achilles, MCL, LCL, torn an ACL, and partially torn his rotator cuff all in the pursuit of sport. But many of the common postural and movement faults of modern life amplify the risk for athletes who demand a lot of their bodies.

For example: The hunched shoulders and head forward mechanics of the cell phone age limits nerve supply and blood flow to and from the brain, inter-vertebral discs get squashed, nerves get impinged, lung capacity is decreased, and the rotator cuff tries to perform miracles from a weak imbalanced shoulder position.

Why put yourself in harms way if you can easily avoid it? Please help young athletes understand that by simply being tall through their head, neck, and shoulders in life and most definitely in training they avoid the myriad of injuries, imbalances and weakness described above.

It is truly frustrating how many times I have seen this simple fix be ignored in fact scoffed at until the pinched nerve or torn rotator cuff sidelines athletes, sometimes permanently.

Harry Hunchback: “How do I rehab this wing Ed, nationals are in 2 weeks?”

“Well Harry do you remember when you argued that sometimes you are hunched in your sport so you should lift weights that way too? That you feel silly walking around all upright? You must understand that the best rehab is to never get the injury in the first place, as it can take up to a year for tissue to fully remodel?…” I am not making this up, I have had 3 conversations just like this in the last couple years. One athlete never made it to Nationals and the other 2 did not perform to expectations and still struggle with issues related directly to their head, neck, and shoulder posture. Be tall and proud like Ed I always say.


Another relatively correctable movement habit that predisposes athletes to injury is walking with the toes pointing out to the side. Maybe you sprained your ankle or toe and turning the foot out takes away the pain. Maybe people you model movements after have their toes pointing out as well. Whatever the reason this foot position short circuits the natural ‘toe, foot, ankle, knee, hip’ shock absorption and force production system. It makes the hip flexors the prime mover of the whole leg, places strain on the inside of the knee, puts the ACL at risk, flattens the arch of the foot and causes abnormal bone growth on the big toe joint (bunions). Please ensure both feet are pointing the direction you’re heading, at the most allow a 10 degree out-turn. This is true in training as well; performing your squats, lunges, and other lower body moves with toes out amplifies the restrictions noted above and builds strength on that dysfunction. Don’t do it.

Laying it all on the line on the field of sport is an honourable pursuit but knowledge is power in terms of injury prevention, perhaps you won’t have to get carried off that field!


Ed Stiles BPE, Certified Exercise Physiologist is a member of the Alberta Sport Development Centre’s Performance Enhancement Team and is the Fitness Coordinator at the Family Leisure Centre he can be reached via e-mail at asdc@mhc.ab.ca, or at ed1sti@medicinehat.ca